18 May 2018 from 14:30 to 15:30

PhD thesis defence Eliane Fankhauser: Polyphony in the Northern Low Countries Around 1400

Utrecht Universiteitsbibliotheek, Hs 6 E 37 (Hs. 1846), bifolio I.
Source: Utrecht Universiteitsbibliotheek, Hs 6 E 37 (Hs. 1846), bifolio I.

The cultural and especially musical environment of late-medieval Utrecht was more diverse than hitherto assumed. Polyphonic settings in areas where Dutch was the main language show own characteristics and as such contribute to a more holistic understanding of the musical landscape in Europe in the late Middle Ages. This is the conclusion of the doctoral dissertation written by Eliane Fankhauser.

Ties to Utrecht

The fourteenth-century fragments of mensural polyphony housed at the Utrecht University Library (NL-Uu 6 E 37, Hs. 1846) have long been associated with the court of the Counts of Holland at The Hague and one of the pre-eminent collegiate churches of Flanders, St Donatian in Bruges (Strohm 1984; Strohm 1985). An in-depth investigation of the host books from which the fragments of the sub-collection Uu 37.I were extracted in the early twentieth century now reveals previously overlooked ties to ecclesiastical institutions in Utrecht.

collegiate chapters

More specifically, research carried out by Fankhauser points to collegiate chapters some of whose canons were exceptionally wealthy, belonging to the city’s most important patrician families. Codicological and palaeographical analyses, moreover, revealed that the fragment leaves of Uu 37.I belonged to four different convolutes one of which, according to its foliation, used to be an extensive collection of presumably Mass settings and motets.

late-medieval Utrecht

The second part of her dissertation is dedicated to late-medieval Utrecht. Being an episcopal city, Utrecht was home to a great number of ecclesiastical institutions, ranging from monasteries to parish churches. Most influential at the time, however, were the two wealthy collegiate chapters of the cathedral and Oudmunster (Old Minster). A study of archival documents sheds light on the cultural and musical environment in Utrecht between 1350 and 1450.

performance of polyphony

It shows that the cultural life at the time was more sophisticated than hitherto assumed, placing music and music making next to more-investigated cultural branches such as book illumination and silver arts and crafts. Evidence for the performance of polyphony could not be found in the archival documents. However, the rich organ tradition at the most important ecclesiastical institutions, which included the construction and renovation of most state-of-the-art organs and the manufacturing of manuscripts, nevertheless allows for the conclusion that music other than plainchant played an important role at these institutions.

Eliane Fankhauser MA
Eliane Fankhauser

surviving corpora

The Dutch-texted repertory and, more specifically, a few selected polyphonic settings from the fragment collections Uu 37.I and NL-Lu 2720 are central to the closing part of this dissertation. The last part commences with an overview of the surviving corpora of Middle Dutch literary text and songs. The listing of the totality of surviving polyphonic settings with Dutch texts shows that, today, roughly one third is kept in the Netherlands; two thirds are spread in manuscripts and fragments kept all over Western Europe.

regional characteristics

Within the Dutch-texted polyphonic repertory the music and texts of three outstanding settings are analyzed. The three-part setting … ic hebbe ripe kersen is a motet featuring a market scene presumably in a town close to the sea. A comparison to the French-texted motet Je commence/Et je feray/Soules viex makes clear that these motets have much in common, yet both making use of regional characteristics in terms of the musical setting as well as regarding its texts. Two more settings with street cries, Des vasten avonts and Tsinghen van der nachtegale, both can be associated with carnival, a feast that was celebrated extensively at the court of The Hague under Albert I of Bavaria’s rule.

Start date and time
18 May 2018 14:30
End date and time
18 May 2018 15:30
PhD candidate
Eliane Fankhauser
Recycling Reversed: Studies in the History of Polyphony in the Northern Low Countries Around 1400
PhD supervisor(s)
Prof. Karl Kügle